The Health Ministry, which pushed through the Knesset an amendment that since last July totally prohibits smoking in all government buildings, has been violating the law since hundreds of Jerusalem staffers started moving into its new headquarters in the Romema quarter a week ago.

By walking up 13 floors of the ministry’s internal staircase and then down to the bottom again on Sunday afternoon, The Jerusalem Post not only found not a single “No Smoking” sign but counted 92 cigarette butts and half-a-dozen packets of Hebrew-lettered cigarettes from the entrance until the floor where Deputy Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman sits.

These were evident even though the law bars smoking inside all government buildings.

Litzman and his director-general, Prof. Ronni Gamzu, pooh-poohed the evidence and said the cigarette butts were apparently “left by foreign workers, not by our employees.” But according to the Knesset law, even foreign workers and not only staffers and visitors to the building are forbidden to smoke.

When the Post asked Gamzu whether the ministry had asked the Civil Service Commission to issue reminders to all government offices that smoking rooms and smoking on the staircases were barred by the law and set down punishments, the director-general said that inspectors would catch violators in the act and ensure they get fined. “We will not allow smoking here,” he said.

Gamzu said that some ministry staffers had even come to him and asked that he set up smoking-cessation courses for them. Over the years, numerous ministry staffers – even security guards – at its previous headquarters in San Simon-quarter apartment buildings had been seen smoking in their offices, on the staircases and at the entrances.

Gamzu said he knew well that no smoking rooms are allowed in his ministry and that the only place people could legally smoke was outside the building – which would mean individuals would have to go into the building accompanied by smoke. He conceded he didn’t like the idea of such a scene at a ministry whose task it is to fight smoking.

The 2012 amendment also prohibits smoking at outdoor swimming pools, at bus and train stations and other public places, but it is not properly enforced because the ministry has still not issued regulations on posting signs and other details for implementing the law.

Asked to comment about enforcing the law, prominent lawyer Amos Hausner – head of the Israel Council for the Prevention of Smoking – told the Post that Gamzu in fact had a “much easier way” to enforce the law than calling in inspectors.

“The ministry must ask the Civil Service Commissioner to declare that smoking in all government buildings is a disciplinary violation, allowing it to lower the rank of any civil servant who has violated the law, deduct fines from his salary and even fire him,” Hausner stated.

He continued that when the late prime minister and incessant smoker Yitzhak Rabin lit up during cabinet meetings, the Civil Service Commissioner in 1994 ordered him to stop, and since then, no one has dared to light up up during cabinet meetings.

If a building contractor’s workers might smoke while working on the building, said Hausner, Gamzu should have required the contractor to prohibit their smoking and to post graphic “No Smoking” signs there. The foreign workers and their bosses wouldn’t dare violate conditions of the contract at risk of being punished, the lawyer continued.

Hausner said that, around the world, smoking rooms in public and private buildings are disappearing and that Israel’s Civil Service Commission must see to it that the laws are enforced.

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